The Region: F for failure

Europeans ready to get tough on Iran, but Obama is showing no leadership.

US President Barack Obama. (photo credit: AP)
US President Barack Obama.
(photo credit: AP)

We must now face an extremely unpleasant truth:Even giving the Obama administration every possible break regarding itsIran policy, it is now clear that the US government isn't going to takestrong action on the nuclear weapons issue. Note that I didn't even say"effective" action, I'm saying that it isn't even going to make a goodshow of trying seriously to do anything.

Somesay that the administration has secretly or implicitly accepted theidea that Iran will get nuclear weapons and is now seeking somelonger-term containment policy. I doubt that has happened. It is justnot even this close to reality.

From its behavior, it still seems to expect, incredibly, thatsome kind of deal is possible with Teheran despite everything that hashappened. Then, too, it may hope that the opposition - unaided byAmerica - will overthrow the Iranian government and thus solve theproblem. And it is too fixated on short-term games about seekingconsensus among other powers; two of them - China and Russia - areclearly not going to agree to anything serious. This fact was clearmany months ago, but the administration still doesn't recognize it.

Not only is the Obama administration failing the test but it isdoing so in a way that seems to maximize the loss of US credibility inthe region and the world. A lot of this comes from the administration'sphilosophy of unprecedented concepts of guilt, apology, defeatism andrefusal to take leadership never seen before among past liberalDemocratic governments from Franklin Roosevelt to Bill Clinton.

Yet the British, French and Germans are ready to get tough on Iran, yearning for leadership and not getting it.

All of this is watered down in media coverage, focused onday-to-day developments and swallowing many of the administration'sexcuses plus its endlessly repeated rhetoric that action is on the way.When the history of this absurdly failed effort is written, the storywill be a shocking one.

ITWAS totally predictable that the Iranian government would not make adeal. It was totally predictable that Russia and China weren't going togo along with tougher sanctions. It was totally predictable that afailure by the US to take the leadership on the matter and insteaddepend on consensus would lead to paralysis. And it is totallypredictable that a bungled diplomatic effort will produce an even moreaggressive Iranian policy along with crisis and violence.

First, the administration set a September deadline forinstituting increased sanctions and then, instead of following atwo-track strategy of engagement alongside pressure, postponed doinganything while in talks with Iran.

Second, it refused to take advantage of theregime's international unpopularity and growing oppositiondemonstrations due to the alleged rigged June election for thepresidency. On the contrary, it assured the Iranian regime it would notdo so.

Third, the administration set a December deadline shouldengagement fail, then refused to recognize it had failed and didnothing. It is the failure even to try to meet this time limit byimplementing some credible action that has crossed the line, triggeredthe point of no return.

Fourth, the US government kept pretending that it was somehowconvincing the Chinese and Russians to participate, while there wasnever any chance of this happening. Indeed, this was clear fromstatements repeatedly made by leaders of both countries. Now, this duohas sabotaged the process without any cost inflicted by the US whilemaking clear they will continue doing so.

Fifth, high-ranking US officials still speak of their continuedeagerness to engage Iran and mention at least six months more ofdiscussion efforts before anything is done about sanctions.

Sixth, the administration now defines sanctions asoverwhelmingly focused on the Revolutionary Guards, who it cannot hurteconomically, thus signaling to the Iranian regime that it will donothing effective to hurt the country's economy. This means that evenif and when sanctions are increased, they will be toothless.

All of these steps tell Iran's regime: full speed ahead onbuilding nuclear weapons; repress your opponents brutally and the USwill do nothing.

After these six failures, the US is now - in effect - resting.And that is the seventh failure. There are no signs that anything ischanging in Washington.

To believe that the administration has learned anything, wewould have to see the following: An angry US government which feelsthat Iran's regime made it look foolish; a calculating administrationthat believes the American people want it to get tough and gainpolitically from being seen as decisive; a great power strategy thatwould make an example of Iran to show what happens to a bunch ofrepressive dictators who defy the US and spit on its friends andinterests; and a diplomatically astute government that understands theuses of threats and pressure to force its opponent into a compromise.

There is not the slightest indication that the Obamaadministration holds any of these views. On the contrary, without anyapparent realization of the absurdity of the situation, high-rankingofficials keep repeating in January 2010 as in January 2009 that, someday, the US might do something to put pressure on Iran. Perhaps thosein the administration who do understand what's wrong don't have theinfluence to affect the policy being set in the White House.

This is going to be a case study of how failing to deal with aproblem sooner, even if that requires some diplomatic confrontations,will lead to a much bigger and costlier conflict later involvingmilitary confrontations.